What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:1-5)
Do you believe Paul is talking about one’s actual childhood, or something else? I think something else. I believe he is using the metaphor of childhood as a backdrop for the collective experience of mankind.
Remember, Paul has been talking about the Law and how God provided it in a particular historical season to prepare our hearts for the promise of Jesus. So as a people, the Jewish nation, and really all of mankind, were metaphorical children. The Law was a guardian, steering and prodding their spiritual lives until such time the curse of sin could be erased and the Spirit of God could come to live within.
The Law did not employ the “basic principles of the world”, but it had the unintended effect of promoting legalism and self-righteousness. There was nothing wrong with the Law, just as there is nothing wrong with many rules and regulations. But when they take the place of the foundational desire of the heart to do the will of God, they can become the devil’s workshop.
I will never forget an experience I had with some teens in a church I once served. A husband and wife who had a pretty narrow view of what church should look like unleashed a bundle of complaints about the teens. They criticized their dress, their behavior, their attitude, and their lack of respect for others. Since the teens in questions were among the most mature and gracious I had ever met, I shared the complaints with them and we agreed together to go to the couple’s house and apologize for any misunderstanding. Within the first five minutes of our conversation, the couple made several unkind comments to the teens. And then it happened… The husband kicked his coffee table and a Playboy magazine slipped out from under his wife’s Good Housekeeping. Oooops! From that point on things were awkward…not because of the magazine, but because the teens that were with me were consumed with trying to be respectful when what they really wanted to do was roll on the floor and laugh.
The “basic principles of this world.” Law has a way of leading us in that direction. When we replace the right heart with the right rules, disaster is sure to follow.
Please don’t get me wrong. I hope you know by now I have an unusually high level of love and adoration for the Old Testament Law. It was beautiful. And I also believe we find a number of rules or “commands” in the New Testament that must be followed. One of the dangers of misinterpreting the distinction between Law and grace is the temptation to disregard sound spiritual instruction.
On the other hand, right living without the right heart almost always leads to wrong action. As humans we are incredibly crafty, and we can easily maneuver around the truth to proclaim our sinful behavior just, while condemning others for the wrong we do. Does this sound confusing? It is. Imagine how confusing it seems to the rest of the world.
Dear God, help me grow up in grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.